Robert Solow, Nobel-winning economist who studied technology, dies at 99

Robert M. Solow, who won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Economics for his study of the impact of technology on economic growth, work that led to a broader understanding of what drives the expansion of industrial economies, died Dec. 21 at his home in Lexington, Mass. He was 99 years old.

His son John confirmed the death. No reason was given.

The son of a fur trader, Dr. Solow was a Brooklyn-born Harvard graduate with a quicksilver wit and liberal political leanings. His research has made him a respected voice on public policy issues, particularly employment.

Dr. Solow, who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for most of his career, served on government boards and was the senior economist on President Kennedy's Council of Economic Advisers in the early 1960s. He believed in the Keynesian theory of government intervention in the economy, which put him at odds with conservative economists such as Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate who advocated free markets.

“Everything reminds me of Milton Friedman on the supply of money,” Dr. Solow said while on a panel with Friedman. “Everything reminds me of sex, but I try to keep it out of my papers.”

In a 2007 special issue of the Oxford Review of Economic Policy devoted to the impact of Dr. Solow's work, the editors wrote that his seminal 1957 paper, A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth, and a follow-up paper in 1958. , “Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function” was “among the most influential and respected articles in economic theory.”

These papers, the editors wrote, “transformed growth theory from a questionably vague debate about stability and bleak knife-edge properties into a comprehensive, flexible framework for analyzing key growth questions.” [such as] Effects of Changes in Savings, Population, Attrition and Technical Progress on the Level and Growth of Output'.

Dr. Solow was essentially a theorist who developed statistical or mathematical models to describe the interaction of economic forces and pioneered what became known as “total factor productivity,” the respective contributions of labor, natural resources, and capital goods to growth. in national income.

He was 30 years old when he laid the foundations for his Nobel Prize-winning theories, developing mathematical analyzes showing how technological progress accounted for much of US economic growth in the first half of the 20th century. Previously, only the growth of capital and labor was considered to play a dominant role in the rate of growth.

“Solow's theoretical model had a tremendous impact on economic analysis Quote read from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “First and foremost, Solow's growth model provides a framework within which modern macroeconomic theory can be structured.”

The powerful role of technological progress identified by Dr. Solow contributed to a greater emphasis by governments on higher education and technological research.

His liberal politics found expression in a collection of papers evaluating the Kennedy-Johnson years, which he and the late economist Eli Ginsberg of Columbia University compiled and edited. It was published in 1974 as The Big Society: Lessons for the Future.

In the last chapter, Dr. Solow and Ginzberg wrote that “there is nothing in the history of the 1960s to suggest that it is a law of nature that social legislation cannot effectively deal with social problems, or that state and local governments or private enterprise. It will always be better than the “Feds”. “

It was as if they were arguing about the conservative doctrine of the Reagan administration, which came a decade later.

Referring to the government's safety net support to help the lowest-income people, the editors also said: “The extended economic prosperity of the 1960s helped lift many families out of poverty, but this longest boom in the nation's history also proved that economic growth is not the answer for everyone.” , who do not have enough income”.

The oldest of three children, Robert Merton Solow was born in Brooklyn on August 23, 1924.

“I was good at school from the beginning, but not very intelligent until I was in high school,” he wrote in his Nobel biographical statement. “Then one of those teachers who make a difference taught me to read the great French and Russian novelists of the 19th century and take their ideas seriously.”

He graduated from high school two months before he turned 16. Originally planning to attend Brooklyn College, which was free for New Yorkers, he enrolled at Harvard University in 1940 on a full scholarship after being convinced by his English teacher that he might be able to get in. in an elite college.

A few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Harvard sophomore enlisted in the Army because “there seemed to be more pressing and interesting things to do than I was doing,” he wrote in his Nobel application.

He spoke German and knew Morse code, so the Army assigned him to a signal intelligence unit that fought in the Italian peninsula from 1943-45. The unit's mission was to intercept, decode and translate communications between German tactical units.

For his leadership of that unit, then Technical Sgt. Solow was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, but he refused to serve on the battlefield as a second lieutenant. He explained in a 2014 interview with this obituary that accepting a commission would change his relationship with other enlisted men in his unit or result in his transfer to another unit.

[1945წლისაგვისტოშიისსახლშიშვებულებაშიიმყოფებოდაწყნაროკეანეშიშესაძლოგადანაწილებისმოლოდინშიიაპონიაშიშეჭრისმიზნითროდესაციაპონიისდანებებისშესახებცნობამოვიდამასშემდეგრაცშეერთებულმაშტატებმაატომურიბომბიჩამოაგდოჰიროშიმასადანაგასაკიზეუკანმოუხედავადმანგაიხსენაMIT-ისინტერვიუში:”მეარასოდესმითქვამსწინააღმდეგი[President] Harry Truman had dropped that bomb.”

That same year he married Barbara Lewis, a Radcliffe student who became an economic historian. He died in 2014. Survivors include sons, John Solow and Andrew Solow; a daughter, Katherine Solow; eight grandchildren; and three grandchildren.

After his discharge from the military, Robert Solow completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard in 1947. He also became a research assistant to future Nobel laureate Vasily Leontiev, a pioneer of economic input-output analysis. Leontiev “taught me economic theory and the application of mathematics in economics,” he said.

He joined the MIT faculty in 1949 while still working on his doctoral dissertation at Harvard (he received his degree in 1951). In 1961, he won the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded by the American Economic Association to the American economist under 40 who has made the greatest contribution to the field. In 1979, he was the president of the association.

At MIT, Dr. Solow developed a close relationship with economic theorist and textbook author Paul A. Samuelson, whose office was next door. Samuelson, who died in 2009, was the first American economist to win the Nobel Prize. Their proximity to MIT, Dr. Solow later wrote in his Nobel biography, “began what has now been almost 40 years of almost daily conversations about economics, politics, our children, cabbages and kings.”

Dr. Solow also became known for mentoring future Nobel laureates such as George Akerlof and Joseph E. Stiglitz (who shared the prize in 2001) and Peter A. Diamond (2010). They were among the many highly accomplished graduate students who enrolled at MIT, as Dr. Solow and others emphasized that the department puts student education ahead of faculty research.

After retiring from teaching in 1995, Dr. Solow pursued several intellectual interests. He and Alan Krueger, a Princeton scholar and future chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, authored and edited essays on the 1995-2000 U.S. economic boom in their book The Roaring Nineties: Can Full Employment Be Sustained? (2001).

Dr. Solow has also dedicated himself to studying the nature and institutional background of low-wage work in the United States and several European countries.

Dr. Solow was not hostile to technology (it was central to his theory of economic growth), but he disliked and rarely used email. He offered this “economist's explanation” of his disdain for electronic correspondence in a 2014 interview for this obituary: “If you make communication expensive, you get messages of zero value.”